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March 2009 Archives

chanukt2.jpgFollowing on from this musical charity's Volume I a few years back is this second American music tribute to Hanukkah (yeah, I know how they spelled it, but I'm trying to be consistent here) from 2006. Deanna Bogert kicks things off with a solo boogie piano version of "Dreidel Dreidel," the Bobwhites turn "Blue Christmas" into "Blue Hanukkah," Klezcentricity do a nearly bluegrass version of "Ballad of Chanukah," The Alexandria Kleztet do "Eight Days of Peace" as a rock ballad, and Mark Rubin and His Ridgetop Syncopaters revisit "The Dreydl Song" in "Texas style," Bob Wills that is. David Grover and the Big Bear Band offer an original, "Latkes," about the potato pancake, and Dr. Louie presents his own "Hanukkah in Boston," a boogie-woogie tune. The rest of the performances are traditional songs for the Jewish holidays rendered in more traditional musical styles.
holiday8.jpgWe reviewed a "collection of collections," a two-disc set compiling the best of this charity's first seven holiday compilations, several years ago. They returned with no. 8 for 2005, with a heaping helping of 21 songs. Kicking off things is "Fall Leaves Fall," more of an autumn song by Jennifer Cutting's Ocean Orchestra featuring Annie Haslam, former vocalist for the folk-prog-rock band Renaissance and former wife of Roy Wood, he of "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day." The song is quite ornate and operatic, in keeping with Haslam's past work. Susan Cowsill -- yes, those Cowsills -- offers "Crescent City Snow," a folky dirge for her home town of New Orleans. Esther Haynes and Mark Noone duet on the old jazz number "Hitch a Ride With Santa," Janine Wilson unearths a song from the old "Dick Van Dyke Show," "Santa, Send Me a Fella," performed originally by Rose Marie, and Timothy Bracken does a poppier take of the Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight Tonight)." Noone returns with the Rhodes Tavern Troubadours on his original "Christmas Really Rocks," which has more of a Ramones flavor. Joe Uehlein and the U-Lines cover Steve Earle's "Christmas in Washington," Honky Tonk Confidential's "Santa Is a Working Man" is a roadhouse original for the labor advocates in the audience, Evan Johns and Ira Gitlin each offer banjo-based takes on the holiday, and Suzanne Ives and Bumpkin Pie perform their own "Party at the Stable," more honky-tonkin'. All told, this is an eclectic collection, though it leans a bit more folky and country than rock.
tonicsol.jpgI had never heard of these guys until their management got in touch with me, so if you were already aware of these guys' 150 shows a year and their popular PBS holiday special, indulge me for a moment while I tell you these guys are quite the entertaining a capella quartet. Very funky, nothing glee-clubby about these guys, and they set familiar carols to intriguing original arrangements. I've previously admitted to a weakness for a capella, as long as it's imaginatively done, and these guys fit the bill. Their first Christmas album was Sugarue from 2002, eight familiar carols and two originals, "Joseph's Song" and "SNo," all breathtakingly arranged and sung. On Top of the World followed, another holiday album in the same vein, and on the heels of their 2006 DVD Christmas, the recording of their TV special, came a soundtrack CD that essentially mixes live and studio performances comprising mostly songs from their other discs. Check their website for downloads and disc sales.
grubdog2.jpgWe reviewed "Merry Xmas (From Your Ex-Girlfriend)" by this artist a few years back, and he obligingly sent along these two tunes to see what we thought. The first one is a country lament from 2005, a nice emotional song, and the latter is a mostly instrumental nod, fiddle-led, to the end of the year. It won't substitute for "Auld Lang Syne" as the closer for your mix discs, but it's well played. He's got several more holiday tunes at his MySpace page for the holidays, too.

"Xmas Bloody Xmas," TV Smith (Damaged Goods)

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tvsmith.jpgSmith was part of The Adverts, the 70s British punk band best known for "Gary Gilmore's Eyes." He brought out this pop-punk single in 2004, now a download from his record label, a nicely cynical take on the holiday with plenty of holiday touches including glockenspiel and acoustic guitars, but it still rocks along nicely. The full download also includes his versions of Adverts hits recorded live, including "Gilmore," "Bored Teenagers" and "The Lord's Prayer."

"Blue Christmas," Wiser Time (self-issued)

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wisertim.jpgNot the popular holiday song, but more of a blues song stealing the title to issue the same sentiment as the more popular song. Wiser Time is a New Jersey classic rock trio, and this is downloadable from iTunes or eMusic.
margrets.jpgA nicely realized holiday ballad from this Norwegian band, it captures the hustle and bustle of the holidays, along with the alienation of a young man trying to find his place in the world. A thoughtful take in a sparse but complete arrangement, downloadable from their site. UPDATE: If they're not still giving it away, click on the cover to get it from iTunes.

XO For the Holidays, various artists (XO)

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xocover.jpgXO is a management group, and it compiled this freely downloadable holiday disc for 2004 from among the indie rock artists it was representing at the time. Things get off to a promising start with a cover of Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody" by Service Group, then Master Slash Slave offers a rocked-up "All I Want For Christmas" that isn't the Mariah Carey song, but a plea to "get the band back together." Romeo Spike's "Christmas Diablo" adds a sinister synth line over top of a strong pop-rock arrangement while the singer "eats candy corn and watches spooky movies." "Ragtime Manifesto" by the Winter Sounds appears to be neither, just a good holiday love song. Blue Skies For Black Hearts appears twice, once with their own "It Never Snows On Christmas," a kind of choral chant leading into the chorus -- a global warming warning, perhaps? -- and they return to cover "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" in a more lo-fi rendition than the original. The Backsliders hold a rave-up with the song "That's How We Do Christmas," and that's how a lot of us will want to do it. Play> caps off the collections with a sparsely arranged "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." This is probably worth paying money for, but you won't have to.
andrgold.jpgThe author of the 70s hit "Lonely Boy" as well as "The Golden Girls" theme "Thank You For Being a Friend" offers us these two Christmas songs, a fairly faithful take on the John 'n Yoko hit and a more 70s-ized take on the Beach Boys number, though the vocals are spot-on from the original. Nice work.
burnette.jpgBack in the '70s this guy had a hit with "Tired of Toein' the Line," and he's still around, as these new holiday tunes attest. "Pretty Paper" is the Roy Orbison song written by Willie Nelson that's more typically played by country artists nowadays, and he does a credible version. The Chuck Berry classic is a little weaker, as the harmonized chorus takes away some of the rock 'n roll flavor of the original. Still, worth checking out.
kerinobl.jpgI'm assuming this 2004 single is a Keri Noble original, but since downloads typically fail to include songwriting credits I'll have to guess. It's a love ballad like many other pop Christmas songs, but it's still pretty good for all of that, playing off familiar Christmas themes in the lyrics.

"Light My Way," The Bangles (RCAM)

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bangles.jpgI've always been a Bangles believer, so I'm surprised this 2006 holiday ballad managed to slip past me until now. If you remember any of the group's big production ballads, this won't sound particularly unfamiliar to you. I should note that a lot of folks like to sneak their cover of Paul Simon's "Hazy Shade of Winter" in as a Christmas song, which kind of fits if you're looking for a darker holiday hue. (Feel free to do the same with the original.) Oh, and the band back in its heyday did a Beatles Fan Club Christmas-style record, "Bangle Jangle Christmas," in 1983, and reissued it in 2004 with fresh greetings. The band just sold the last nine copies of the reissue to its fan club.
thrivivo.jpgA nice uptempo original from this Bay Area band for 2008, dwelling on the winter season more than the holiday. The flip side is an acoustic version of their song "Angels on the Moon."
kensrue.jpgThe sometime member of hardcore band Thrice brings us a holiday album under his own name for 2008, his second solo album. Recorded at home, it has a leisurely vibe, but the simplicity of it is an attractive attribute. It's mostly acoustic with light percussion and it relies mostly on the canon for its songs, but there are a few originals, the title song, the self-explanatory "Christmas Blues," and the somewhat apocalyptic "This Is War." His "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" has him sounding vocally a bit like Bono, though that similarity melts away on the other songs. And he so far is the only one I can recall doing "Fairytale of New York" without calling in a duet partner. Not exactly a barn-burner, but a fairly satisfying album nonetheless.
castcrwn.jpgYet another new Christmas album from a contemporary Christian rock group. The Casting Crowns are well-established in their genre, and this 2008 disc features a few originals among the classic carols, including a re-casting of their previous song "While You Were Sleeping," which their press materials say was originally written for the holiday and was de-seasonalized for its first recording on their Lifesong album. They cover Amy Grant's "God Is With Us," bring back "Away in a Manger" from 2005's Wow Christmas, and they do a massive rearrangement on "I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day" that casts the song in a new light. They don't really rock out here, with the snappiest tunes being midtempo at best, and the overall impression of the disc is that it emphasizes the religious aspect most, which is no surprise. That means it's a little less fun-loving than we like here at Mistletunes.
almost.jpgChristian rockers with a contemporary radio-friendly sound, The Almost rushed out this EP for 2008 that features five songs, two from their full-length album Southern Weather, two non-LP tunes, and a cover of "Little Drummer Boy" in a rocked-out arrangement that still manages to keep the acoustic guitars and vocals out front. Not bad.
franflin.jpgAnd yeah, that's almost right, except this self-proclaimed psychobilly band did do three Christmas tunes on this 1988 album, reissued as a double with the album Rockin' Out. They do good versions of "Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me," "Santa Claus Is Back In Town" and they set a martial beat to "Blue Christmas." Oh, almost overlooked "Oh Little Town of Bedrock," in which the 'Stoneses home town is substituted for Bethlehem, and most of the song is substituted for a really fast shuffle that doesn't sound like any Christmas song I know. Sure rocks out, though.
crestrid.jpgDon't think I have to spell this out for the folks. This 2008 CD is a dozen surf music instrumentals of your favorite classic Christmas carols, although I think "Santa's Surfin' Holiday" may be an original, though it sounds a tiny bit like "The Munsters" TV show theme. Can't find out anything else about these guys, though the disc appears to be available from CDBaby, Oldies.com and iTunes.
amymac.jpgFound this on iTunes, a 2008 rendition of the Kirsty MacColl-Shane MacGowan duet by this young Scottish singer performed live, essentially an homage to the original. (Don't know who the male singer on this version is.)

Sing: A Christmas EP, Josh Wilson (Sparrow)

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joshwils.jpgChristian rocker Wilson has this three-song collection on iTunes for 2008, consisting of his original "Sing," which is a bit of pre-Nativity prophecy set to a modern rock beat; a snappy "Angels We Have Heard On High" that betrays a debt to U2; and a guitar instrumental of "The First Noel." Not bad.
smokie.jpgSmokie was one of those British pop bands from the early 70s that came along on the tailwind of the glam-rock era, associated with the production and songwriting team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. The pair had also worked with such bands as Sweet, Mud, Suzi Quatro and Hot Chocolate. Smokie's celebrity was mostly confined to the European sphere, with such hits as "Don't Play Your Rock 'n Roll To Me," "If You Think You Know How to Love Me," and "Living Next Door To Alice." Lead singer Chris Norman also duetted with Quatro on the worldwide hit "Stumblin' In." Unlike most of the Chinnichap acts, Smokie persevered onward into the present day, pausing to record this Christmas CD in 1996. It's your basic 20-years-on rock band that's done everything else adding a Christmas record to the repertoire. They long ago left Chinnichap behind, so what we have here is adult contemporary pop-rock layered under synthesized orchestration applied to 14 songs, of which "It Won't Be Christmas," "When a Child is Born," the title song, and "Christmas Isn't Just For Children," all fairly conventional Christmas sentiments. Considering the band once cut an album in Nashville, the countrified take on "Away In a Manger" isn't unexpected, but it is a different arrangement. They also do David Essex's "A Winter's Tale," Chris DeBurgh's "A Spaceman Came Travelling," and an almost folkish "Mary's Boy Child." The rest are traditional carols like "O Christmas Tree," "O Holy Night," "Silent Night" and pop standards like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "White Christmas." This is OK for Smokie fans and those who like their bands to be from the 1970s, assuming you don't pay import prices for it.
belaflek.jpgI was going to skip this one entirely, but I know a lot of folks with eclectic tastes really like Bela Fleck, and we've got a fair number of eclectic readers at this site. Nevertheless, we don't do jazz here, and this album is mostly jazz with a capital J. That said, it's still a revelation to listen to a guy play banjo the way people like Joe Pass or Pat Metheny play the guitar. There are a couple of classical workouts with bassist Edgar Meyer on hand, and the version of Joni Mitchell's "River" features Fleck playing banjo and piano simultaneously, according to the liner notes. At the very least, one cut from this will make an interesting change of pace on your holiday mixes. From 2008.
hotdogs.jpgCan't find any trace of these guys on the Intertubes, but this punk EP from 2004 definitely has its charms. The title song profanely reflects on the rapid approach of the holiday, and there's a radio edit with the bad words bleeped out. The other songs on the disc are similar in approach, but they aren't Christmas-oriented. Found this on CDBaby.com.
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